[Ed. note: Several months ago, we asked for readers to submit stories inspired by or imitating Stephen Dixon. Among those that came in was this piece by Courtney Eldridge, entitled “The Lawn.” We hope that you enjoy it as much as we do.]
for Stephen Dixon.
He’s thinking something. Had a thought. Wasn’t two seconds ago, but can’t remember what. Now what was it? he thinks. Couldn’t have been too important or he’d remember. Maybe not, but he thinks so. Probably nothing, whatever it was. Certainly nothing worth writing home about or he would. But come to think of it, he hasn’t written home about anything in years. Not since his parents passed away or before that. Hasn’t written home since they sold the house he called home or thought of as his home when he thought of it, and wouldn’t have written them there, because they probably wouldn’t have received the letter, anyway. It was a nice thought, though. He could write to the address of his childhood home if he wanted to, because he still remembered it. Now there’s an idea. Maybe he should drop them a line for old time’s sake. Say it’d been a while and how are they? Maybe they’d respond and tell him they were surprised to get his letter and then tell him how they were and he could write back and ask them about the house and his old room. How’s my old room holding up? he’d write back, or maybe send a second letter, while he was at it. But then whoever was living there now would probably think he was off his rocker for writing them. Who’s this lunatic writing us one time to say it’s been a while and another time to ask about his room? they’d think or even say out loud, to themselves or each other, and then maybe pass his letters around the dinner table, he thought. In that case, maybe he’d write a third letter and tell them that, too, that he knew he must sound like a real kook or a whacko or lunatic, if they preferred, not to put words in their mouths, and he could imagine that that was what they must be thinking and saying to themselves as they read those very words, and he agreed, it was a little odd, after all these years. That’s it — that’s what he had been thinking about before — nothing much, but it might be good for a laugh to write home soon. No, silly thought, nonsense. Forget he ever thought such a thing.
But a man’s got to do something, might as well think, he thought. He could hum, certainly, a man like himself, out doing a little yard work, showing a little pride in house and home like he’s showing right now. He could hum or whistle, of course, and not think anything at all. Yes, why not? Well, on second thought, he can’t whistle or hum. Meaning it’s no good. He can whistle and hum, is physically capable of both whistling and humming. As a matter of fact, he prides himself on his ability to whistle and hum, but his meaning was something else entirely. He meant the futility of whistling or humming, not physical ability. He can’t do either, meaning he can’t do anything but think at the moment, and barely that, owning to the task at hand, specifically, the lawn mower. Can barely hear himself think over the roar of this chunk of junk lawnmower, much less whistle while he works or hum a nice tune to lift his spirits and forget his troubles, which are many. Added to which, there’s no time to whistle when he’s swearing at the mower, for being so cheap and old and hard to push, and the lawn, for always growing on him. A man can’t rest without the lawn turning on him behind his back and growing every time he turns around or sits down to read the paper on a quiet Sunday afternoon. Tries to talk sense and says to the lawn, “Make you a deal, I leave you alone, you leave me alone, agreed?” and the lawn seems amenable, so he turns his back and goes inside. Sits down in his favorite chair with the newspaper and reads a section or two, but the lawn backs out of their deal at the last minute. He learns this when his wife comes in or down from upstairs or wherever she was before she thought to bug him about it, and she says the lawn’s overgrown and needs mowing again.